The Year 2017 was a Landmark Year for professional recognition.
2017 was a special year for Cuneiform. We and many of our artists received new professional recognition, including Cuneiform's first-ever Album of the Year Award. Cuneiform's release of Wadada Leo Smith’s America’s National Parkswon the 2017 Jazz Album of the Year Award by the DownBeat International Critics Poll; the award plaque now proudly hangs on Steve Feigenbaum's office wall. Several of our artists won prominent awards in 2017, including Wadada Leo Smith, named Jazz Journalist Association's 2017 "Musician of the Year" and 2017 "Jazz Artist of the Year" & "Trumpeter of the Year" in the DownBeat International Critic's Poll; and Mary Halvorson (who's in Cuneiform's Thumbscrew trio with Michael Formanek and Tomas Fujiwara) was named 2017 "Rising Star Jazz Artist" and "Guitarist of the Year" in the Downbeat Critics' Poll. In addition, a number of Cuneiform artists, including Smith and Ed Palermo (of the Ed Palermo Big Band), were interviewed and prominently featured in magazine and webzine articles in 2017.
The Year 2017 was also a marked by new professional accomplishments.
In 2017, Cuneiform released its most ambitious project to date: its first-ever multi-media box set: Art Zoyd’s 44 ½: Live and Unreleased Works, containing 12 CDs, 2 DVDs, 2 books, and 2 posters. Recently released, The Art Zoyd Box has appeared in some of the most prestigious Best-of-Year lists worldwide, including The New York Times’ list of 2017’s most notable box sets, and Rolling Stone’s list of 2017’s Best Prog Reissues, compiled by David Fricke.
Cuneiform released, distributed & promoted a dozen releases of highly innovative, quality music in 2017, in genres ranging from rock and jazz to New Music and "beyond".
Cuneiform's 2017 releases were by artists from around the world: the USA (Bubblemath, Cheer-Accident, Thinking Plague, The Microscopic Septet, The Ed Palermo Big Band), Canada (Miriodor), USA/UK (Chicago/London Underground), Finland (Raoul Björkenheim/Ecstasy), France (Art Zoyd), and Switzerland (Schnellertollermeier, The Great Harry Hillman). Nearly all of our 2017 releases (in digital, cd, and vinyl format) are appearing in Best-of-Year lists in various print or online publications focusing on different musical genres. In addition, our 2017 releases have received radio play and reviews worldwide in both the major print and myriad online press. Magazines such as Jazziz, Jazz Times and DownBeat and online media like New Music Box have done prominent feature stories on several of our artists this year. In 2017, as always, we worked hard to release great music, and distribute and promote it worldwide.
We wanted 2017 to close with Cuneiform Records on top of its game - and it has.
2017 ended with Cuneiform Records in admirable form: on top of a mountain of great music, an astounding catalogue of innovative music by some of the world’s most visionary musicians; on top of a mountain of professional and practical achievements. We're an independent label specializing in cutting-edge music that released nearly 500 internationally critically acclaimed albums - a noteworthy achievement. We're proud that, for nearly 35 years, we have frugally survived as a fiercely independent, self-sufficient small business in the shadow of Washington DC, the US capital city, paying royalties to its artists, a fair hourly wage and health insurance to its employees, taxes to local and federal government, and rent to its landlord in downtown Silver Spring, MD, all while commercially releasing, distributing and selling avant-garde art music internationally. We worked hard and are proud of what we accomplished in 2017, and in all of our years since 1984, when Steve Feigenbaum founded our artist-friendly label. We have earned the respect of artists, other industry professionals (labels, distributors, retail stores, press and radio), and fans, and we are extremely grateful to each and every one of you for your support over the years.
Steve Feigenbaum is the brains behind Cuneiform. He is in charge of A&R (curating Artists & Repertoire), in addition to overseeing all business and legal matters, including sales, distribution, manufacture, licensing for media and more. For 2018, Steve will take a year sabbatical to determine what direction the label could or should take to be viable again in the future. Because sales of recorded music in every format - digital, cd, lps - have dramatically declined for everyone in the music industry, it is no longer feasible for us to run a record label in the same manner as we have for the past 35 years. For Cuneiform, 2018 will be a year to rethink, retool and evolve the label.
During his sabbatical, Steve will continue to maintain Cuneiform’s catalogue, oversee digital and physical album sales, pay twice-yearly artist royalties, oversee licensing and other legal matters, and keep Cuneiform Record’s official website updated, including updating the Tour page for concerts. But, while Cuneiform released an average of 15 albums a year for more than three decades, no new releases are currently scheduled. Cuneiform will remain in its current offices in Silver Spring, which it shares with Wayside Music, an internet-based record store that Steve founded in 1980 and continues to run with Simon Mertz and a part-time assistant.
In the wake of digital revolution and accelerated technological change, Cuneiform Records must continue to evolve and adapt.
The digital revolution changed everything for everyone in the music industry. When Cuneiform began, its international business was conducted by mail or phone, and later, fax. When the internet arrived, we became "early adopters," embracing it as our ideal "dream" tool for international commerce. But there was also a downside to the internet; digital theft. When digital theft began taking a toll on physical sales around 2009, we had to adapt to survive. We began releasing music in electronic format in addition to traditional physical ones, making it available for sale on a variety of digital platforms, and we embraced new media, expanding promotion to internet radio, online press and social media.
But as sales of recorded music in all formats have steadily declined, it's become increasingly difficult to finance the release of new high-quality musical content. A glut of free music on the internet and nearly free music on streaming platforms has devalued music. Surrounded/drowning in free music that’s “good enough” for casual entertainment, there is little incentive to purchase music. This unsound climate endangers the future of professional music. Music that sustains deep listening costs money to create, record, release, distribute and promote. In 2018, Steve will explore how Cuneiform could further evolve to continue releasing music of substance.
Cuneiform's Department of Publicity & Promotion will be dissolved at the end of January 2018.
Cuneiform Records, via its Department of Publicity & Promotion, has long been one of the world's most vocal and pervasive champions of cutting-edge music, promoting avant-garde music of all genres to press and radio internationally, and receiving coverage everywhere, from fanzines and blogs to major music magazines (The Wire, DownBeat) and mainstream publications (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian), and on air from college radio to national public radio worldwide. It currently maintains an email contact list of over 10,000 press, radio and fans worldwide, in addition to another 20,000 social media (Twitter+Facebook+Instagram) followers. The Promo Department has gotten thousands of reviews, hundreds of articles and interviews and thousands of hours of airplay worldwide for Cuneiform’s artists.
But in recent years, music sales have not been able to support Cuneiform's in-house promotion costs. Despite efforts to trim postage and other costs by using digital promos and newsletters, cutting back on international shipments/promotion, adopting shared postage/promo plans, adopting "white-label"/non-commercial packaging for promo CDs, and other efforts, promo expenses are no longer sustainable. Cuneiform’s Department of Publicity and Promotion will cease activities at the end of January 2018.
Cuneiform Records is a record label; its core purpose is discovering, releasing, distributing and selling innovative music that deserves to be heard; paying royalties to its artists; and maintaining its catalogue. To sustain those key functions in changing times and enable the label to evolve, it's currently necessary to trim other activities, however complementary.
The Department of Publicity and Promotion currently consists of my assistant/colleague Javier Diaz and myself (Joyce Nalewajk Feigenbaum). Javi’s looking for a position in Marketing, Social Media and related fields; he's been with us since 2007, managing our North American radio promotion in addition to spear-heading Cuneiform’s ventures into digital sales and promotion. I founded Cuneiform’s Department of Publicity and Promotion c. 1992, and subsequently expanded Cuneiform’s initial list of c.15 media contacts to thousands, in addition to overseeing all activities, including an intern program. I’m looking for a part-time position in Artist Promotion/Social Media. I'll also be working on developingThe Music Outpost, a music licensing site devoted to licensing innovative music by Cuneiform and other artists to film, tv and other media, to its full potential.
Over a period of 35 years, Cuneiform Records has established itself internationally as an essential resource for musicans/creators, scholars, and fans of high-quality, innovative music that defies 20th century genres, pioneers new forms, and elicits deep listening.
Cuneiform Records has championed cutting-edge music since 1984, when Steve Feigenbaum released What’s the Point?, an lp of R. Stevie Moore songs he curated after listening to hundreds of hours of Moore's tapes. Steve went on to assemble on Cuneiform an astounding catalogue of high quality, innovative music that either transcended or tested and transformed genre boundaries, progressing each into future forms, whether rock, or jazz, or electronic, or classical… Cuneiform’s catalogue contains a number of landmark discs, such as David Borden’s The Continuing Story of Counterpoint, a series of discs that critics called “’The Goldberg Variations’ of minimalism, a canon of works that defines a style and an era”. Borden’s pioneering 1970-73 works with the world’s first all-synth ensemble, Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company, also came out on Cuneiform. Cuneiform released Wadada Leo Smith’s America's National Parks, the DownBeat 2017 Jazz Album of the Year, and Smith's Ten Freedom Summers, a 4-disc tribute to the American Civil Rights Movement that was one of 3 finalists for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music and also Metacritic’s highest 'metascored' (99) album of all time.
Cuneiform's catalogue includes numerous archival gems, such as '68, featuring recordings that Robert Wyatt made while staying at Jimi Hendrix's house in the summer of 1968, following the Soft Machine/Jimi Hendrix Experience USA tour. Historians and fans of both jazz and rock have benefited by Cuneiform's release of previously unseen material by Soft Machine, Matching Mole,Gary Windo, New York Jazz Quartet, Nucleus, Chris McGregor’sBrotherhood of Breath, the Steve Lacy/Roswell Rudd Band, John Surman and the NDR BigBand, Michael Gibbs and many more US and overseas artists.
On several occasions, Cuneiform reissued a musician's entire back catalogue, introducing that music to new audiences, and subsequently released new recordings by that artist. Beginning in the 1990s, Cuneiform reissued all of Richard Pinhas' early works, including the classic Heldon catalogue, and subsequently released Pinhas’ numerous new recordings, both solo and in collaboration with Merzbow, Oren Ambarchi, and others. Cuneiform also reissued The Microscopic Septet's back catalogue, and soon began releasing their new works.
Beyond these reissues and archival material, the bulk of Cuneiform's catalogue consists of new recordings by visionary composers as well as improvisors, established icons as well as fast-rising stars. Cuneiform released numerous recordings by American cornetist/keyboardist Rob Mazurek’s various ensembles (SãoPaulo Underground, Exploding Star Orchestra and more) and Finnish guitarist Raoul Björkenheim’s groups (Ecstasy, Blixt w/ Bill Laswell & Morgan Agren), and all but one of the recordings by The Claudia Quartet, American percussionist John Hollenbeck’s influential small ensemble.
Cuneiform's catalogue includes such British free-jazz legends as Mujician, Elton Dean, and Paul Dunmall, and young Brit rising stars like Empirical and Led Bib. We also championed the New York Downtown Scene, with recordings by Curlew, a hybrid of jazz, blues and rock, and Doctor Nerve.
For many years, Cuneiform was the major champion of Chamber Rock and related rock/classical hybrids that emerged from Europe’s Rock in Opposition movement, releasing and promoting dozens of works by Present, Univers Zero, Miriodor,Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Thinking Plague and other groups, most recently, Art Zoyd.
Cuneiform released works of dark and edgy Americana by Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores, and Beat Circus; innovative American guitarists such as Henry Kaiser, Richard Leo Johnson, Rez Abbasi, Joel Harrison and Anthony Pirog; and music by such inventive big bands and large ensembles as The Ed Palermo Big Band, Michael Gibbs with the NDR Big Band, and Adam Rudolph's Go: Organic Guitar Orchestra. Our roster include avant-garde trios like djTrio (Christian Marclay / Toshio Kajiwara / DJ Olive) and Thumbscrew (Mary Halvorson / Michael Formanek / Tomas Fujiwara); groundbreaking post-rockers like Ahleuchatistas and Schnellertollermeier, and bold groups that have taken jazz into such surprising arenas as classical music (Ergo) and pop (Pixel). And it released many other wondrous recordings; nearly 500 albums...
To familiarize yourself with the length and breadth of what Cuneiform Records has released across the past decades, we invite you to visit:
In 2018, Cuneiform Records remains a precious resource for musicians, for fans, and for cutting-edge music itself. Steve Feigenbaum welcomes your encouragement and support as he resets Cuneiform for the future.
For decades, Cuneiform Records proved that a small, indie record label releasing avant-garde / art music could be as professional and sustainable as a major label that releases mainstream pop. But today, in a changed climate caused by digital revolution, all species of record labels are endangered. Cuneiform looks forward to your support as it devotes 2018 to exploring how to adapt to a radical new environment.
Joyce, Director of Publicity and Promotion, Cuneiform Records
with Javier, Director of Digital Promotion, Cuneiform Records
Steve, Head of Cuneiform Records and Wayside Music
Simon, Manager of Wayside Music
Lindsey Turnbull, Sales Assistant, Wayside Music